Not even the three cups of coca tea I had during breakfast at my hotel in Aguas Calientes could help me calm my nerves.
I hadn’t slept much the night before; I could not help but think about my visit to Machu Picchu the following morning. The few times when I managed to fall asleep, nightmares involving my alarm not going off and my travel buddies leaving without me kept me restless. The rumbling Urubamba river, tempestuously flowing a few meters from my hotel window did little for my insomnia.
I’ve never been a big fan of must-see visits and bucket lists, the kind that appear every couple of months on link-bait blogs with titles like “The 23,234 Places to See before Your Eighth Reincarnation” or similar. Not even visiting the Taj Mahal had made me so nervous. But Machu Picchu was different. I don’t really know why, I just know it was.
Before visiting any “top” attraction, I tend to prepare myself mentally to be amazed, it is a contradiction, I know. Planning to feel amazed is like a Miss World contestant practicing her surprised face in the mirror, just in case she happens to win. Battles with the subconscious are always lost battles.
However, there is a small part of my mind, the cynical one, that actually prepares for disappointment. After all, things are rarely what we expect of them, especially with touristy places.
But no, there was no disappointment, no bad feeling, no heartache; I maybe was a little cranky for having to get up at 5 am, but other than that there were zero regrets.
We arrived at the archaeological site after a mad bus ride through the jungle path that connects Aguas Calientes with Machu Picchu, a zigzagging, narrow and wet paved road that the bus driver drove on as if it were a roller coaster.
Still shaky from the bus ride from hell, I looked up and saw the ticket office. My bad mood vanished almost immediately. I was in Machu Picchu.
We crossed the security checkpoint and met our guide. We walked a bit through a few hills and stairs and came to a small plateau in a curve after which the Inca city of Machu Picchu waited impassibly.
It was the middle of the rainy season and the mountain that rises behind the ruins (Huayna Picchu) was practically completely covered by a thick curtain of clouds.
Fortunately the weather changes quickly in these latitudes and after a few minutes the white clouds cleared to make way for the majesty of the lost city of Machu Picchu.
We climbed a bit more towards the Puerta del Sol, up to a quiet area where our guide explained the history of the city and its discovery to the Western World.
To be honest, I was too enthralled with the breathtaking views of Machu Picchu in the distance to pay much attention to what we were being told. Judging from Vicky’s face, she felt the same way.
The guide probably told us that Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Birham, a professor at Yale University, who, seeking the holy city of Vilcamba (last capital of the Inca Empire) heard of the existence of these ruins and found a city covered with vegetation and with no signs of being touched by Spanish conquerors.
She probably also mentioned that Birham stripped the area of all valuables, including mummies, and sent them to the United States, where most of these stolen artifacts still can be found.
Probably in the middle of history she would have explained how the city worked, and pointed at the crop terraces and missing thatched roofs on the houses, of which only a few have been reinstated so that visitors can imagine how they looked like 600 years ago.
She probably also concluded by explaining that Machu Picchu was never plundered by the Spanish because it was abandoned by the Incas, who knew the only way to preserve their city was, ironically, to remove the traces of its very existence.
The entire city was built keeping in mind a perfect sense of harmony with Pachamama (Incan deification of Mother Nature), and the energy the place releases is almost tangible. In fact, there are specific sites in the city where followers of new-age religions have detected very powerful energy fields.
I do not know if the city’s mystique had anything to do with it, or if I was simply overwhelmed by having the fortune to experience and visit one of the most significant places on Earth. But, and this comes from a convinced skeptic, that day I also felt Machu Picchu’s energy.
Disclaimer: I traveled to Peru thanks to the courtesy of my partner, LAN Airlines.